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When the textile conservator of the Fries Museum in The Netherlands, Gieneke Arnolli, invited me earlier this year to visit their archives, I just couldn’t wait for my next trip to my home country. Her description of their textile collection made my mouth water and my fingers itch, as it contained many knitted items and darning samplers; what’s more, there were even knitted darning samplers!

Last week I finally got to visit Gieneke. There was so much to see and talk about with her, that I don’t quite know where to start with sharing it all, so today I’ll give you a general impression, and will write some more about particularly interesting items in two follow-up posts.

Fries Museum Mystery Gloves 1783

Mystery Gloves from 1783 – the initials read AI. The A is typical from Friesland, with the cross bar on top, but this is also seen in Scottish cross stitch samplers

These gloves are very special in many ways, as they were the reason Gieneke and I got in touch to start with. They arrived in the Fries Museum collection by way of a collector of curiosities. He probably bought them in some antique shop, and that’s all we know about them for certain. They have elements of a number of knitting traditions from a number of countries: the seeded stitch pattern and initials are like gloves from Sanquhar and The Dales from the UK, the Nordic star or rose could be from a Scandinavian country, the shape of the letter A is particular to Friesland and Scotland, and the embroidered loops are reminiscent of the elaborate decoration found in textiles from the Baltic states.

Fries Museum Floddermuts Fries folk costume

The Frisian ‘floddermuts’ – part of the traditional folk costume for women

The Fries Museum has a large collection of traditional Frisian folk costumes. One part of the women’s outfit was this skullcap, which would be worn over a bronze, silver, or gold head ornament, which sometimes covered almost the whole skull. Traditionally they were made from bobbin lace, procured from Belgium or France. At the beginning of the 20th century it became difficult to source the amounts of lace needed for the floddermuts (the ruffled neck part can contain well over a meter of lace) and knitted lace was a good substitute. In other words, there was no knitting tradition for these mutsen in Friesland, and they were made to emulate the bobbin lace. Many of them show patterns I recognise from Shetland lace knitting. This floddermuts was knitted with sewing cotton, using knitting needles probably smaller than 1mm! I particularly like the little bobbles in the diamonds on the back of this floddermuts. They are so round and full, they look like the muts is studded with pearls.

Fries Museum boys night caps

knitting is for boys – knitted boys night caps

In order to keep warm during the cold winter nights, everybody wore night caps. Traditionally, girls wore night caps made from woven fabric with delicate lace trimmings, and boys wore knitted night caps. Here’s a selection of them, mostly knitted by hand, but the Fries Museum also has some crocheted and machine-knitted examples.

Fries Museum doll's gloves

Miniature mittens for a doll

The Fries Museum also has a large collection of dolls. Most of the dolls were not to play with, but for girls to learn to knit and sew. Most of them have all the garments that make up a typical outfit of the period the doll is from. It allowed girls to practise the various needlecrafts and the construction of garments, from socks, underwear, petticoats, to shirts, jackets and coats. I loved these miniature mittens for a doll, in a jolly orange colour, and the loopy trimming at the edge.

Fries Museum knitting samplers

Yards and yards and yards of knitting samplers, some measuring more than 5 meters

There were drawers full of knitting samplers. They were used to learn stitches, and as an aide-memoire to remember their construction – in a way they’re personal stitch dictionaries. Susanna Lewis’s Lace Knitting Workshop on a knitting sampler held in an American museum was part of the inspiration for my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches, so it was very nice to see some of these objects for real.

Fries Museum Knitted Mitaines

Mitaines kept your lower arms warm

Gieneke is particularly fond of the knitted mitaines. The fashion of the time (we’re talking very roughly 1750-1850 – I’m not a fashion historian and I didn’t manage to take notes of every single item I saw) dictated dresses with sleeves to the elbow, so to keep your arms and hands warm in a house without central heating, women usually wore mitaines, wrist warmers, or muffs. The pair on the right is particularly beautiful, with the pointed shape to cover the back of the hand, and this shaping is repeated on the thumbs.

Fries Museum Woven Darning Sampler

A woven darning sampler, although the second darn on the top-row emulates a knitted fabric – klick on the image to see it enlarged

When Gieneke opened the drawers with the darning samplers I got very excited! So far I’ve only seen these on-line and in books. It was a very special moment to be able to examine these up close, and see the back as well as the front. The darning samplers were part of most girls education. They taught them how to mend household linen in a large variety of weaves. These were executed in coloured threads (often silk or cotton) on a fine linen fabric. The colours would help see the beginning darner what was going on, and get a better understanding of the construction of each darn. Ultimately, the aim would be for these darns to be made in the same colour thread as the item to be fixed, so the repair would be nigh on invisible. However, I find these samplers in their many colours very beautiful, and I can only imagine the patience required, and undoubtedly the frustration felt by the girls who had to make these samplers. Interestingly, Gieneke pointed out that although most girls were taught these skills, leading to beautiful samplers, most real-life darning on the clothes in the collection was never executed with the same attention to detail. Clearly these women had better things to do than spend hours and hours darning a hole on a skirt.

Fries Museum knitted darning samplers

Can it get any better? Knitted darning samplers!

And after the drawers of woven darning samplers, Gieneke opened the drawers with the knitted darning samplers! What I really like about these, is that many of them were done on actual socks and stockings. Undoubtedly the girls first had to knit the stockings, then divide them into squares with the red thread; each square would then give them an area to practice a particular darning technique. It’s worth zooming in on this image (you can do this by clicking on it) as you will see that every sampler here not only has darns and repairs in red thread, but also in white or cream, rendering them almost invisible.

There are some interesting things to observe about the darning samplers, so keep an eye out for my follow-up blog posts, where I will discuss the woven and knitted darning samplers in a bit more detail.

With many thanks to the Fries Museum and Gieneke Arnolli for allowing me to take pictures and giving me permission to share them on my blog.

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Having just returned from a three-week holiday, I had plenty of time to look back to 2013, and look forward to 2014. Last year has been amazing, and I’m sure this will continue in the new year!

Looking back

Darning

Darning at Wool House, Somerset House

I was invited to darn at Wool House, Somerset House, as part of the very successful Campaign for Wool event. I had a great time, and Wool House put my darning sessions in the “best bits” list! It was super-busy, and I think I have enthused quite a few people about darning, and also explain why I like using 100% wool products.

Hope and Elvis Darning Workshop

2013 also saw the first of my day-long darning workshops. I went to Hope & Elvis, lovely Louise’s great studio. It’s stuffed to the gills with vintage fabrics, blankets, threads, scraps, books and any tool you would possibly need, so it was a lot of fun to explore various darning techniques. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m returning there in April.

ShetlandWoolWeek Darning at Jamieson & Smith

Last but not least, my darning skills took me to Shetland! Here’s a picture of my darning class at Jamieson & Smith. I had a great time, I met so many amazing people, with amazing skills. I left a few loose ends on purpose, so I have a good reason to return.

Knitting

Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches Lace

Early last year I exhibited at Prick Your Finger. My Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches explored many different knitting stitches and techniques, some old and rare, others common and much-used. It was a good way to learn about different techniques, and investigate them in detail.

Altered Kasha Cardigan for Wedding Outift

Rosemary had seen my Curiosity Cabinet, and thought I’d be the ideal person to take on a commission for her wedding outfit. I gladly took this on, and I knitted a Kasha Cardigan for her, with some alterations: a different collar, and three-quarter length sleeves. It was a great project to work on, and Rosemary has been wearing her cardigan many times since.

Aleatoric Fair Isle Swatch

Last year I also explored stranded colourwork, and in particular the Fair Isle tradition. Together with my comrade in wool, Felicity Ford, we devised a method to learn more about Fair Isle patterns, which took away some of the hurdles we often face when trying to knit Fair Isle. Using rules we made up and some dice, we left pattern and colour selection to chance, based on John Cage’s compositional concepts. We called this Aleatoric Fair Isle.

Spinning

Diamond Fibre Mill spinning

Other highlights include my visit to Diamond Fibre Mill, where I met Roger, who runs this small independent mill, specialising in worsted spinning, and who owns his own flock of Romney sheep.

timbertops chair spinning wheel

I also became the proud owner of an original Timbertops spinning wheel. A chair wheel no less. I haven’t had a chance to write about this yet, so keep your eyes peeled for a blog post in the near future.

Special mention

And if all that wasn’t quite enough, Kate Davies, Felicity and myself curated Wovember 2013 to celebrate wool in all its myriad forms. We posted features about growing, harvesting, processing, working, and wearing wool. I did many more things last year, so these were just some of my highlights.

Looking forward

Plans for 2014 are forming in my head, and amongst others, I’m looking forward to releasing my first cardigan pattern, using Foula wool. A bit later than expected, but it’s important to me to get everything right. I will continue working on the Aleatoric Fair Isle swatches. I’ve also taken on a very special visible mending commission to repair an upcycling attempt gone wrong. As previously mentioned, not only will I return to Hope & Elvis for a darning workshop, I will also run a Darning Master Class at Unravel at Farnham Maltings. More classes and workshops are in the pipe-line, so keep an eye out for them.

Scotch darn on sock

2014 will also be the year of exploring. I did some free-style knitting before Christmas, and I found it very liberating. I found some good books on the subject, and I have also been inspired by Rachael Matthews’s approach to making, and in particular what became her Explosion Jumper.

On the spinning front I want explore more lace-weight spinning, using wool from both classic breeds (Shetland), and unexpected breeds (Rough Fell.)

Last but not least I would like to explore more mending techniques, and in particular learn more about darning and repairing woven textiles. And I still have one or two jumpers to complete…

darned jumper

 

I don’t know about you, but I think I have plenty of things lined up, and it will be my pleasure to share them with you and write about them here.

Happy New Year!

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Last Friday I made my way up to Retford, Nottinghamshire, to stay with Louise Presley, owner of Hope & Elvis. Louise and her husband Nigel were very welcoming and made me feel right at home, making sure I was fed and watered and had a good night’s sleep in preparation for the darning and mending workshop I ran at her beautiful studio on Saturday.

HE_display

Hope & Elvis studio, darning examples and reference books on display

By 10am everybody had turned up, and after an introduction to my Visible Mending Programme, I used some of my darned garments to discuss a variety of techniques. I explained why I had chosen them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of each technique was. Then, whilst having a cuppa and a biccie, each student showed what they had brought to repair and we discussed ideas together.

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Repair in progress at Hope & Elvis

Throughout the day I demonstrated stocking darning, Swiss darning, Scotch darning* and giving hints and tips on what materials to use, make people think about whether their darns would be practical or an embellishment. Needless to say, I also showed my Speedweve, and I was so pleased to see that Louise not only had one herself, but that she also had a Star darning machine!

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A darn in contrasting thread

Louise’s studio is crammed from floor to ceiling with vintage haberdashery, blankets, fabrics, needlework gadgets, threads, yarns, old and new books, and it was fantastic to have all of this to our disposal. Although we had a break for lunch, most people were keen to continue stitching, and I think that when you see the following pictures you’ll agree that everybody made something amazing on Saturday. With apologies in advance: I haven’t remembered everybody’s name – I must be getting on a bit…

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Marks made on a blanket

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Pattern darning sampler

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Buttonhole filling stitch by Mister Finch

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Sock stitch sampler

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Sturdy sock embellished with damask darning

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Delicate darning by Dawn

HE_gusset

Patched up ripped underarm seam by Sarah

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Meta-darning of a tear in a paisley scarf

It feels good to know that there are a few cardigans, tops and scarves back in the wardrobe, rather than lurking in the mending basket!

I hope my next darning class will be just as successful. It’s coming Friday, 10 May, and there are still a few places left if you’d like to sign up.

*) On Scotch darning: for months now I have been trying to find a copy of a particular edition of Weldon’s Encyclopaedia of Needlework, which explains the Scotch darning technique. I have discussed variations on it in this post, but Saturday was my lucky day. Louise had two copies of said edition, so she gifted one to me! Here is The Page:

HE_ScotchDarning

Scotch darning explained

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Late last autumn I bought a jumper from a charity shop. It was a nice enough woollen jumper. But after wearing it a few times, I wasn’t feeling the love anymore. As I was keen to explore a technique I tried out on a cardigan last year, I indulged in ten skeins of Appleton’s crewel wool:

HAJ_Appletons

Ten shades of Appleton’s crewel wool, and a boring jumper

It was time to say Bye Bye Boring Jumper, and Hello Amazing Jumper:

HAJ_front

Bye Bye Boring Jumper, Hello Amazing Jumper!

In a way this is a darning sampler gone slightly out of hand. The bottom half consists of blocks of crewel wool woven in and out of the stitches of the knit fabric:

HAJ_DamaskAll

Damask darning on knitted fabric

As you can see, there’s plenty of different patterns to make, and yet I think I’ll run out of jumper before running out of ideas! In some patterns I pick up a single “leg” of a knit stitch, in others I pick up a whole stitch, or even more. Some of these patterns are based on existing patterns from other sources. There are quite a number of herringbone variations, a Prince of Wales Sanquhar tweed pattern, and a simple houndstooth, too.

HAJ_DamaskCU

The pattern in the middle is based on the Prince of Wales Sanquhar pattern

Unsurprisingly, weaving in and out of the fabric mutes the colours of the crewel wool when seen from a distance. And these colours do deserve to be seen in all their glory:

HAJ_AppletonsCU

Appleton Bros. Ltd. London, 100% Wool, made in England Crewel Wool

So I have just started adding a row of what I have called “Finnish” darning in the past, by want of a better word. This really shows off the colours:

HAJ_SingleCordedBrusslesStitch

As an aside, when I was browsing through a stumpwork book, it turns out that in this needle lace tradition it is called Corded Single Brussels Stitch, but, as a few people have pointed out, it also appears to be a variation of nålbinding. Whichever name you use for this stitch, I just love the way it looks.

It might take a little while yet to finish the Hello Amazing Jumper, but I will be taking it to my one-day darning workshop to share these techniques at Hope & Elvis on Saturday, 4 May (please note, this is now fully booked.) I will also run the same workshop in Glasgow, on Saturday, 18 May at The Stitchery Studio – for which there are still a few places available.

Last but not least, I’ll be running my usual darning class at Super+Super HQ on Friday evening, 10 May.

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Wool House, a showcase of the use of wool in many different guises at Somerset House, has now come to an end. Wool House was organised by the Campaign for Wool and I got to play a part in it, too. What’s more, my drop-in darning sessions were a great success and the Campaign for Wool added them to their highlights of the exhibition!

WHDropInGroupCFW

Drop-in darning at Wool House. Photograph © Campaign for Wool and used with their kind permission

As you can see, it was really rather busy – and it was like that all weekend long. In the background you can see two felted wallhangings by Claudy Jongstra. I’d love to see some of her large site-specific installations. Some people knew I was going to be at Wool House, so they brought along holey jumpers and socks, but I also provided swatches to practise on.

WHDropInConcentrationHS

Concentration at Wool House. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I also ran a darning master class. As this was more in-depth, I had to restrict this to six people only, but many people watched over our shoulders. For many, darning seems to be connected to memories of grandmothers or mothers regularly taking up darning mushroom and needle. These stories got shared with other visitors and me – somehow this simple act of repairing, either by doing or by observing, is very emotive.

WHMasterClassGroupSC

Master class in darning. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

We learnt how to do Swiss darning, or duplicate stitching: a good way to reinforce threadbare fabric which hasn’t developed into a hole yet.

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Swiss darning in action. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

And of course, we also wielded darning mushroom and needle. The darning mushroom in particular opened up conversations about mending, as many people have their nan’s or mum’s one, or remember somebody in their family using one frequently. Whilst darning, people start to reflect on repairing garments, what certain items of clothing mean to them, their motivation for repair, and how they get completely absorbed in the act and find it meditative and relaxing. I think this is probably in great contrast to the times when people had the necessity to darn and repair their clothes and it was viewed as a chore.

WHMasterClassStockingDarnSC

Stocking darning, the finer points. Photograph © Sue Craig and used with her kind permission

Of course, I was very happy that darning was so popular, although it did mean I didn’t get a chance to look around as much as I would’ve liked to, or chat to other people showing their skills. Luckily some of my friends took pictures that they have let me use with their kind permission. As the beautifully curated rooms have been discussed at length in other places, I have picked here a very small selection of all the things I would’ve wanted to have learnt more about:

Savile Row tailoring: as I have tried to do some more sewing lately, I’m utterly in awe of all the work that goes into making a suit or a couture gown.

WHBlocksHS

Pattern blocks. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission

I may have mentioned before that I have taken up spinning as well. One of the things I want to do soon, is use my handspun yarn for weaving. After all, darning is weaving on a really teeny-tiny scale! I’ll start with a simple home-made frame loom; it’ll be a while yet before I will be able to make something as beautiful as Jason Collingwood can, using a huge loom.

WHWeavingHS

Jason Collingwood weaving. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

As somebody who really likes hand-stitching buttonholes – yes, really! – I could not finish this post with a perfect example of the art.

WHButtonholeHS

A buttonhole, perfectly stitched by hand. Photograph © Howard Sullivan, Your Studio and used with his kind permission.

With many thanks to Campaign for Wool,  Howard Sullivan of Your Studio and Sue Craig, who runs Knitting the Map, for letting me use their pictures.

One final post-script: you can still sign up for my sock-knitting three-week course; taking place 14, 21 and 28 April. More details here.

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The first of February is approaching fast, which means I need to get ready for my first darning class of the year, taking place at Super+Super HQ in Brighton. There are still a few places available, so don’t hesitate to sign up! I’ll be teaching two classic darning techniques: Swiss darning, and stocking darning.

SSMDTwoToneDarn

Stocking darn on sock

And what with the cold weather, I’ve been wearing out my warm woollen socks like there’s no tomorrow. This, of course, is a no reason to have cold toes when you know how to darn; and indeed, is cause for a darn good celebration! My mending basket was stuffed to the brim with holes, and not one to sit idle, I took darning wool and mushroom to the holes:

FDPile

A collection of mended socks

For the sharp-eyed amongst you, you will have noticed these darns look different from the stocking darn above. Here’s a close-up:

FDOldNew

A darn old and a darn new

I have recently discovered a new darning technique! It was brought to my attention by the inimitable Dr Felicity Ford, who sent me a picture from a Finnish book on knitting and mending:

FinDarnDrawing

Finnish darning diagram

I don’t speak Finnish, but I think the diagram speaks for itself. Once you start working it, you’ll see that it’s the good old-fashioned blanket stitch employed in a new way. It is closely related to Scottish darning, although with this Finnish darning technique you lay one foundation thread and then blanket stitch over it, whereas with Scottish darning you first lay down all foundation threads before filling it up with blanket stitch. I find the end result of the Finnish darn a bit neater, and it must be my favourite new darning stitch.

As I have only recently started using this stitch, I’m not sure yet how it will wear. The darn itself seems sturdier than a stocking darn, as there are more layers of thread. However, the area covered around the hole is not as big as with a traditional stocking darn. This may result in new holes developing around the darned area, as that usually has started to wear thin, too. I shall report back in due course, but I have made sure to extend the darned area beyond the hole .

To clarify the diagram, here’s how to do it:

You need a needle, darning wool, and a hole. I have used both sharp and blunt needles, without appreciable differences.

You start with laying down the first foundation thread at the top of the hole. Simply pick up one leg of each knitted stitch:

FinDarn1

Make sure to go well beyond the hole, as you need two or three knitted stitches worth to make the turn and simultaneously reinforcing the area around the hole. You need to pick up the other legs of the same knitted stitches:

FinDarn2

Pull the thread through, but not too tight, or the darn will pucker and cause unnecessary stress on the fabric. The it’s time to start blanket stitching. Try to lay the as close together as possible:

FinDarn3

When you have reached the other end of the hole, you need to start weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again:

FinDarn4

Turn as before, lay down the second foundation thread, weaving in and out of the knitted stitches again. After the next turn, start blanket stitching again. Make sure to insert the needle inbetween the blanket stitches on the row below, and bring the needle up from behind the new foundation thread:

FinDarn6

It’s important to work the blanket stitches close together. Extend the darn beyond the hole, and start weaving the foundation threads through the knitted stitches again.

Give this new technique a go, and let me know how you get on!

FDGreen1

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Or to be more precise, I visited Gateshead, as I was invited by The Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, which is just on the other side of the river Tyne from Newcastle. The Shipley has a new exhibition on, called ‘Collected Threads,’ celebrating 35 years of the Shipley Craft Collection. One of the events around this exhibition was the Shipley Late last Friday, where a number of artists and makers were asked to lead drop-in workshops. Amongst others, one could learn to make Suffock puffs, make jewellery out of bicycle inner tubes and felt collars. And, of course, how to darn!

The Shipley Art Gallery opened in 1917, bequested by Joseph Shipley, who was a local sollicitor. He had a large collection of paintings. Here’s one of them:

Unfortunately I did not manage to note any particulars of this painting, so I don’t know who painted it, or who’s portrait it is. Although I don’t think it’s a Vermeer, it does have a certain Dutch feel to it. If anybody knows, I’d love to hear from you!

In 1977, 35 years ago exactly, The Shipley started to collect contemporary craft made in Britain. It contains about 400 objects and some of the highlights are currently on display as part of the new exhibition. I particularly liked this tapestry by Sandra Milroy, titled Bleached Wall Under Thatch (1980-1982):

I love the contrasting textures and irregularities and the colours she used. It has a very warm feel about it through the use of wool and hessian. Another example of texture and wool, but this time entirely practical, where these three beautiful ganseys:

My hands are itching to knit one! But that was not what I was at The Shipley for. I set up my little stall with darned socks, a large and motley collection of threads and yarns and an abundance of swatches and needles:

Hiding under the table you can see the wheels of my trolley that helped me transport all these treasures to the gallery. The doors opened at 6pm and it didn’t take long before it was buzzing with people, drink in hand, walking around and soaking up the creative atmosphere. Here you can see yours truly, discussing yarns:

There was a wide range of darning skills to be found in Gateshead. Some people told me they darned all the time, whereas others had never darned in their lives. I was shocked, however, that one girl told me she THREW OUT HER HANDKNITTED SOCKS when they developed holes as she didn’t know how to mend them! I’m pleased to report that after last Friday, this shall not happen again, ever.

Many people knew that I would be teaching darning, and they brought with them cherished items in need of some Tender Love & Care. This ranged from a wild Italian knit from the 80s (colourful flowers on a ground of black and white checks, it looked much better than I could ever describe it – if only I had taken a picture), to these lovely Scandinavian hand-knitted gloves:

The left glove, confusingly displayed on the right, had been darned previously in a cream coloured yarn. The lady who brought them told me that she didn’t know who had knitted these gloves, as her husband has had them for years, and they are his absolute favourite gloves. I was not surprised to hear this, as they were nicely knitted, and had a classic Nordic Rose (or star) on the back. The right glove, as displayed on the left, had some big holes in the index finger and thumb, and the lady who brought them in was enthralled by my glove darner. She told me it made darning so much easier!

I also learnt some darning techniques from the visitors. One lady in particular showed me some invisible mending principles, which she had learnt from her grandmother. I wish I could have met her grandmother, and learn all the tricks!

With around 200 visitors the Shipley Late was a very successful and fun evening, and learning as well as teaching made it an even more worthwhile event. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I can heartily recommend a visit to The Shipley and who knows, you might bump into some darning!

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